Day 18 New Boots and Horsey Seals in Norfolk

Thursday 23 April 2015

Great Yarmouth to Happisburgh
19 miles
The Hill House Inn B&B

What a day. Oh happy feet in new boots. 

I spent the whole day walking on the beach or in the dunes (so I probably actually walked at least a mile further than stated) and it was lovely; the sound of the sea accompanied me all day. The further into Norfolk I got, the finer the sand and the fewer the stones on the beach. Still very few people though, mainly dog walkers, and it is noticeable as walking through the dunes one has to pick ones way past the dog poo!

The day started cloudy with not a breath of wind, so the turbines out in Scroby Sands Wind Farm were still; however, by 11 am the sun was coming out and it turned into another gloriously sunny afternoon. I am so tanned that I am concerned by the end of this trip I’ll be 40 but look 50. People might think my mother is my sister (Norfolk joke…my apologies to anyone from Norfolk). 

I reached Winterton-On-Sea in time for a late morning coffee and a quick visit to the Winterton Coastwatch tower. It’s manned by volunteers who record passing shipping for the Coastguard. To do this job you need to be happy spending hours watching the sea and drinking tea.  

Paul manningthe Winterton Coastwatch tower
Winterton looked like a nice place, with some quirky housing, including a lighthouse and some round houses.  

Fancy living here in Winterton-On-Sea?
The afternoon walk from Winterton was one of those magical times that I hoped for on this trip. I began wending my way through the dunes, eyes peeled looking for adders, but I wasn’t lucky enough to see one even though it was really warm, still and great basking conditions. I did see a pair of ring ouzels but gave up on seeing an added and decided to pop over the dunes and down onto the beach. As I came over the dunes I noticed a line over large stones on the shoreline, but hang on a minute, they were moving. It was a line of grey seals, about 400 of them, lying on the beach enjoying the sunshine. I couldn’t believe it. I walked along the beach, keeping a respectful distance of about 20m and got a great view of them at rest and at play in the surf. For anyone that’s not David Attenborough or hasn’t been to Horsey before, seals are smelly.  

Grey seals up close at Horsey
A very long line of basking seals, maybe 400?
About 15 minutes further on there was a car park and signs pointing the way to the Horsey seal colony; how lucky I decided to walk on the beach when I did!

There were more seals further on up the beach, this time common seals, which are shorter, fatter, cuter looking and lift their tails up whenever a wave comes as if they don’t want to get wet.  

Common seals enjoying the sunshine
After that experience I was on a high so decided to try my luck again adder-spotting; they must be actively avoiding me. I had a quick stop in Sea Palling for a cup of tea and a sandwich and then it was the last section to Happisburgh. I was lucky enough to see a pair of Little Terns to round off a good day. Since I arrived in Suffolk several beaches have had sections roped off because Little Terns nest there, but I am a bit too early so I was fortunate to see a pair flying low over the shoreline. 

Approaching Happisburgh the cliff erosion becomes very apparent and this village is famous for shrinking since the 1990s as houses have fallen off the cliff. The beach section here is closed because of the danger. I didn’t need to walk it however as I was staying in a quirky pub and treated myself to Cromer crab and chips for dinner. What a fantastic day.  

Approaching Happisburgh – cliff erosion visible

Day 17 Most Easterly Point of Britain

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Kessingland to Great Yarmouth (via Norwich)
9 miles
Barnard House B&B, Great Yarmouth

It was much colder during the night than it has been but luckily my jacket makes an extra blanket inside my sleeping bag and I was ok. I had some tent neighbours and I heard them get up and drive off in the car. Everything was wet this morning and drying out the soaked tent was more difficult without the sunshine I have become accustomed to. I am finding myself spending more time in campsite toilet blocks than ever before – they all have hand driers where I spend what seems like hours drying clothes and my tent. 

I had a 3 mile walk along the beach to Lowestoft; a blustery walk along a shingle and sandy beach with lots of tufts of maram grass. The erosion of the cliffs is quite prevalent here. I walked along the deserted sea front at Lowestoft, rather different to my experiences at Southend and Clacton. Past the harbour was the industrial part; clearly a town built on the fishing and marine industries. My target was Lowestoft Ness, the most Easterly point of the British Isles, on the outskirts of an industrial estate but handily marked by a huge wind turbine and something called a Euroscope (a concrete compass with distances to random places in Europe – John O’Groats is 465 miles).   

At Britain’s most Easterly point
I reached the Euroscope
  After the excitement of Lowestoft Ness I caught the train inland to Norwich to buy some new, lightweight, softer boots in the hope that I can finally sort out my foot problems. Hard earned experience from the last 2 weeks convinces me that there’s too much walking on roads and concrete for me to wear hard boots. Shopping done I caught the bus to Great Yarmouth and my first night in Norfolk.  

New boots
The best thing about today was that although I missed out a bit of the coast I did get to see the famous Norfolk Broads. The train from Lowestoft followed the River Waveney marshes and on the bus journey to Great Yarmouth, like an excitable child, I sat in the front seat on the top deck of the bus and was rewarded with a great view of The Broads. Definitely not a wasted day. 

Day 16 Suffolk’s Contrasting Landscapes

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Dunwich to Kessingland
17 miles
Camping at Kessingland Park Resorts

Another beautiful sunny day; if only this weather could go on all year. I managed an early start and headed for the small village of Dunwich, which is famous for most of the town now being under the sea. It has a beautiful relic of a 15th Century Friary.  

Dunwich 15th Century Friary
 I spent most of the morning walking through woodland with views across the marshes, which was really very pleasant. The walk between Dunwich and Southwold, via the somewhat inland coastal path as far as Walberswick, is well worth the effort. I rewarded myself with a late breakfast at the Walberswick tea rooms. As I sat in the sunshine eating a sausage bap and contemplating the wonderful scenery I reminded myself that I need to think of this morning when I’m cold, wet, hungry, have nowhere to stay etc as this is one of the really good moments. 

Unfortunately the foot ferry across the River Blyth between Walberswick and Southwold only runs at weekends so I was forced to walk to the Bailey bridge, adding 30 mins.  

looking up The Blyth from Walberswick with the fishermans shacks and Southwold in the background
Looking back across The Blyth at Walberswick
I stopped on Gun Hill in Southwold to admire the view out to sea, where the 1672 Battle of Sole Bay was fought between the English (augmented by the French) and the Dutch; there were no winners. If you ever listen to Blyth 105 FM they have the best radio studio with a cracking view.  

Blyth 105 FM hard at work
I stopped for lunch on Southwold Pier – a salad today as I need more vegetables in my diet (followed by coffee and cake!). The early afternoon walk to Covehithe was not the best; it was high tide so I had to walk inland and that meant 1.5 miles along a busy road with no footpath, which is the official Suffolk Coast Path. I survived the experience and then from Covehithe the last 3 miles were along the beach in the sunshine. Lovely. The cliff erosion is quite bad in this area and I had a good view of the (small) cliffs. As I wanted to get my tent pitched I didn’t stop for a paddle in the dirty brown sea, but it was calling me. I passed 5 people and 3 asked me about my trip. What a lovely day.  

a lovely day on the long beach between Covehithe and Kessingland

Day 15 The Sailor’s Path Beside the Beach

Monday 20 April 2015

Blaxhall to Dunwich
15 miles
Cliff House Campsite

It didn’t take long this morning to get to Snape Maltings, which is the start of the Sailor’s Path that runs beside the River Alde to Aldeburgh. It’s a varied 6 miles through heathland, farmland, marshland and seaside, and follows a route once taken by many smugglers.  

Looking down the River Alde from Snape with Aldeburgh in the distance
I met a man wheeling a barrow full of shed roofing material and he explained he was putting squares of it on the sides of the banks to attract the adders and the slow worms. Apparently they like to curl up in the warm under this material and he can then catch them and re-home them before the diggers come in to strengthen the earth bank as part of flood prevention. [note: again, despite glorious weather and other sightings I was not lucky enough to see an adder today. I kept my eyes peeled and met some lads who had seen one but not me unfortunately.]

I reached Aldeburgh by 11.30 am and was once more on the seashore. In fact the rest of the day was spent walking right next to the sea and it made a lovely sound. I walked through Thorpeness; once a purpose built holiday village and supposedly where J.M. Barrie wrote most of Peter Pan. It’s a very picturesque place with some nice houses backing onto the shingle beach anyone day I’m going to stay in the House in the Clouds.  

Approaching Thorpeness (can you see the House in the Clouds on the left?)
It was such a hot and sunny day that I decided to stop on the deserted beach and go for a paddle. It won’t be long before it’s a swim! 

Drying my feet naturally, blissful
After Thorpeness came Sizewell and a brief stop for a cream tea in the afternoon sunshine. It was one of those days when it was great not to be at work. I passed the campsite where I’ve previously spent a holiday and was disappointed to see the best pitches right by the beach now taken by fake log cabins. I walked past the nuclear power station, where the water’s warmer and the fish glow in the dark, and on to Minsmere RSPB Reserve. I stopped next to a couple with enormous cameras trained on a bush and saw a whitethroat. There were lots of people walking around from hide to hide; the most I’d seen all day outside of Aldeburgh. After Minsmere comes Dunwich Heath, yet another nature area and my last chance to see an adder. The climb up the cliff here does allow for a stunning view back along the coast to Sizewell.   

View from the top of Dunwich Heath back to Sizewell Power Station with Minsmere in the foreground
All in all a spectacular day. A pity it didn’t finish so well as the campsite tried to charge me £19 for the night (I managed to get it down to £15) because of all their great facilities that I don’t need, and then to top it all off their restaurant is closed on a Monday. I was forced to cook my last portion of cous cous brought from home, which was not delicious but had to do for tonight. Pudding was a chocolate bar. 

Youth Hostels Are Interesting Places

After a comfortable night at Blaxhall YH I thought I’d share my experience. There were 7 of us staying here and I was the youngest by about 15 years from geeky walker guy and the rest were all men over 70. More of a Geriatric Hostel. 

So I struck up a conversation with Mr geeky walker and he had walked South from Lowestoft for 2 days checking out some new kit (something I should have done). Like me he had a big pack but was bivvying in an extra small tent that looks like a slug and only weighs 800g. He knew the weight of all his kit (he buys it from a shop where all weights are labelled) and he’s even got special titanium tent pegs that weigh 2g. He was a serious loner and I was mildly concerned that this walk was turning me into someone like him. I am slightly envious that his pack only weighs 9kg (mine is about 15kg) but I don’t want to get too geeky about it. 

The other gentleman I chatted to is Doing a much more civilised trip as he cycles around Suffolk, his home county, to see all the sights he hasn’t seen – 200 miles in 10 days. Mind you he is approaching his 80th birthday, and I think his bike might be too. I enjoyed chatting to him although I’m not sure the feeling was mutual as he wanted to get on with scribbling notes for the book he’s writing about his trip. Look out for a book called One Leg, No Lycra, Adrift on a Cycle around Suffolk by Rob Barber. 

It just proves we’re a strange lot that stay at Youth Hostels!

P.S. I have the same sleeping bag and thermarest as Mr geeky walker, and I learned that I need to walk in shoes and then my feet might not hurt so much. 

WEEK 2 – Maldon, Essex to Blaxhall, Suffolk


70 miles walked 
(Total 161 miles)

What a stunning week of weather. It was enough to have me out camping 5 nights on the trot, which wasn’t as bad as it might have been although it does mean later starts in order to let my tent dry. 

I’ve made it around Essex, the county with the longest coastline and not somewhere on my list of places to visit. So here are a few of my impressions:

1. If you like walking and wildlife, particularly birds, then Essex is a great place to visit; it has miles and miles of sea wall to walk along with great views from an elevated position and 87 nature reserves (some with cafes). 

2. Of the places I visited, Burnham and Maldon were great for sailors, Mersea is lovely if you go outside of holiday season when it’s taken over by caravaners, and the main resorts of Southend and Clacton are good if you like traditional seaside resorts with long promenades, loud funfairs, chips and cheap lager. 

3. Mostly the people are really friendly. I have been stopped loads and engaged in conversation, and the people I’ve stayed with (Lindsey, Jo, Jackie and Dave) have been very kind and great fun. I have only met less friendly people in the bigger towns where I clearly stick out like a sore thumb. 

After 6 nights camping next this week, and with the benefit of 2 weeks of experience behind me, I have realised that I will be much slower on this trip than I had anticipated. All the other stuff around the walking, such as putting up and down my tent, sorting out places to stay, mapping my route, getting food…and the list goes on, take quite a while. The admin, combined with a heavy pack and sore feet, mean a revised target of 15 miles per day (dependent upon where I can stop for the night of course). I think I need to change my tag line to 5000 miles!

Day 14 The Solitude of the Suffolk Countryside

Sunday 19 April 2015

Hollesley to Blaxhall
14 miles
Blaxhall Youth Hostel

I think my admin is improving as this morning I managed to get up, cook myself porridge and a cup of tea, dry my tent (even though it wasn’t sunny) and all before 9.30 am. A record. 

Today’s walk began with a visit to HMP Hollesley, although not to visit anyone merely to walk through its grounds (I assume at least part of it is an open prison as there was a distinct lack of high walls). I didn’t see any prisoners but I did disturb a herd of deer – neither of us moved for ages and they were a lovely sight in the morning. 

Deer happened upon in a Hollesley field
Then it was a lovely walk along the deserted coastline flanked by salt marshes and fields of sheep.  

Walking the Suffolk Coastal Path with Shingle Street behind me and Orford ahead
 Late morning I reached the Butley River and, fortunately for me, the Butley Ferryman was there waiting to give me a lift across the river in the most sophisticated ferry I’ve been in to date – a rowing boat! I think it’s the same one they’ve been using since the service started in the 16th Century.  

The Butley Ferry
I stopped for lunch at the Quayside tea rooms in Orford, which is a really quaint little town opposite the stretch of shingle that was used for MoD secret stuff for many years. From Orford I turned inland, still following the coastal path as it has to cross the River Alde, and walked through the countryside and Tunstall Forest, headed for the Youth Hostel at Blaxhall. Nice not to have to put my tent up, to have clothes washing facilities and a curry. 

Day 13 Bye Bye Essex, Hello Suffolk

Saturday 18 April 2015

Harwich to Hollesley, Suffolk
13 miles
Run Cottage Touring Park

I was treated to another lie in this morning on another glorious day.  

Looking across at Felixstowe as the sun rises
I even had time to consume a sumptuous full English breakfast at the hotel because the first ferry to Felixstowe didn’t leave until 10.15 am.  

the ferry landed at Felixstowe with one of several huge container ships in the background
Harwich Harbour was a little choppy as it was really windy and I got sprayed with the builders tea brown water of the North Sea a few times. Refreshing. It was nice to finally leave Essex behind and feel like I’m getting somewhere. The walk through Felixstowe was nice, yet more military history and some rather grand houses as I moved further away from the port. 
I had to get another ferry across the Deben River to Bawdsey and then I spent most of the afternoon trudging slowly along shingle beach, which is hard work but a good workout. I passed 7 Martello Towers today, some of them must have been on Grand Designs as they looked like people’s homes. I spent most of the afternoon on my own, not passing anyone and walking headlong into a strong wind, which was quite peaceful really. It wasn’t until Shingle Street, a long stretch of shingle with a small village, that people started appearing; lots of kite surfers taking advantage of the combination of wind and sun.  

Lots of kites out at Shingle Street and a path of shells laid to mark the way to the Lifeboatmen Cottages
Just as I left Shingle Street I happened across a group of sea kayakers who had set up camp on the beach. They are doing a 14 day challenge to raise money to save turtle doves. Good luck to Jonny and his crew. 

After luxury last night it’s back to camping tonight. 

Day 12 A Day off in Harwich

Friday 17 April 2015

Rest day
The Pier Hotel

I had a lie in and didn’t get up until 7.30 am and then it took another 2 hrs to dry my tent. Fortunately Jackie and Dave were on hand to feed me tea and toast and let me sit in a comfy chair. For anyone that thinks this is a luxurious lifestyle here is a photo of me in bed this morning. Don’t knock the hat, without it I’d be freezing!

Me in bed – it’s cold camping in April
I had decided to take the day off as my friend Sally had agreed to meet me so I wanted to finish early. I could only get as far as Harwich today anyway because the ferry to Felixstowe only runs at weekends. As the route was mostly on roads I thought I’d treat myself to a bus ride instead but, better than that, Jackie and Dave gave me a lift. Sally and I went for a nice lunch in a greasy spoon cafe and I kept popping out to do my washing at the laundrettes. I felt like I was in Eastenders! The afternoon was an opportunity to do more planning for next week (which takes ages at the moment) before a sumptuous meal in a posh restaurant. After camping all week and my belt requiring tightening an extra notch I figure I’ve earned it.

Day 11 The Naze

Thursday 16 April 2015

Circular walk around The Naze
9 miles
2nd night camping at Grange Farm, Thorpe-Le-Soken

I decided to stay put for a day and walk The Naze before heading to Harwich tomorrow. Without the need to pack up my tent I thought I’d make my own breakfast this morning – porridge and green tea (I don’t carry milk) – before heading back to the train station, this time with a much lighter rucksack and no poles. I felt so free. The small town of Walton is not particularly noteworthy, other than having the 2nd longest pier after Southend, as it looks like it’s glory days were in the past. The Naze, however, offers fantastic views and in particular from the top of its Tower, built in 1720 as a navigation point for shipping. 

The Naze Tower – the 2 men at its base are engineers who told me it needs re-pointing so from June will be clad in scaffolding
From here I could see Harwich, Felixstowe and as far as Orford, but it wasn’t bright enough to see Kent today.  

panoramic view from the top of Naze Tower, from Clacton round to Felixstowe
 There’s a lot of military history here as the tower was used in both world wars (by the Navy for hoisting semaphore flags in WW1 and the Army as a radar site in WW2). There are lots of pill boxes; many now in the sea as a result of coastal erosion. Aside from the history there’s also plenty of wildlife and I enjoyed a walk on the sea wall around Walton Marshes, yet another Essex nature reserve. 

After a pot of tea at the Tower Cafe I thought I’d wander back to Frinton as I missed it yesterday rushing for the train. Frinton is definitely the more upmarket of the 3 resorts (Clacton, Frinton and Walton) with its Art Deco houses and quieter feel. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t have a pier with obligatory fun fair?

Got the train back to the campsite, did a bit of washing and was sitting doing nothing hoping it would dry draped over my tent when my neighbour, Jackie, thought I looked cold and made me a cup of tea. Well, before you know it I’ve had tea, coffee, my washing is hung on her line and I’m walking to the shop to buy a bottle of wine while she makes me dinner (Spanish chicken and chorizo rice). I haven’t laughed so much in ages. Jealous of Jackie’s motorhome and thinking I want one. Finished the wine and my washing is now in her tumble dryer…this motorhome has everything!  

Jackie and Dave and their amazing motorhome (it’s not a campervan!)